Canterbury Bulldogs captain Michael Ennis thankful mistake didn’t cost his side … – The Daily Telegraph
SOMETIMES the rugby league gods can have a twisted sense of humour.
The halfback nicknamed the Ice Man, Bulldogs playmaker Trent Hodkinson, nailed a golden point field goal to pilot Canterbury into this Saturday’s grand final qualifier against Penrith.
But departing captain Michael Ennis feared he had thrown away his team’s season until two clutch plays from Hodkinson sealed a magnificent, heart-stopping victory.
Seriel niggler Ennis even got a taste of his own medicine from Justin Horo, who patted the Canterbury skipper on the head following the clanger – just as Ennis had done to Cameron Smith a week earlier, causing so much controversy.
WATCH THE INCIDENT ABOVE
Trailing 16-0 after 19 minutes, the Sea Eagles simply refused to surrender, posting tries through Jayden Hodges, Brett Stewart and Cheyse Blair to claw their way back to 16-all with nine minutes remaining.
Then, with the Bulldogs trying to set up for a field goal, five-eighth Josh Reynolds accidentally kicked the ball into referee Ben Cummins.
The whistleblower signalled for a scrum to Manly, before a heated protest from Bulldogs centre Josh Morris led to a reversal of the decision.
It was ultimately the right call from Cummins.
Yet it was so unfortunate for Manly because it gave the Bulldogs brilliant field position for Hodkinson to nail a field goal for a 17-16 scoreline with four minutes remaining.
Enter Manly’s Daly Cherry-Evans, who landed a one-pointer of his own with a minute left to send the game into golden point.
Despite being forced off in the opening half with what appeared to be a serious knee injury, former Manly half-back Hodkinson stepped up when it mattered most.
“Mick looked at me and I just looked at him, like give it to the Ice Man,” Reynolds said.
“Luckily he did — and he kicked it.”
It was a sweet second chance for Ennis, who appeared to have cost the Bulldogs any shot at grand final glory with a wild pass on his own goal-line with nine minutes remaining.
It bounced around before sitting up for Sea Eagles winger Cheyse Blair to score.
Asked if he thought the Bulldogs had blown it, Ennis said: “Yeah. I had thoughts like that. But the talk behind the line was always positive.
“We’ve been in these types of situations plenty of times this year and both halves wanted the footy.
“So that was pleasing.
“In the end Trent was able to get the ball.”
Manly were tremendously brave to fight back, showing you write them off at your own peril.
Broken with key position injuries and an ongoing internal feud, the Sea Eagles simply refuse to throw in the towel despite the odds.
Missing forwards Anthony Watmough, Jamie Buhrer and Matt Ballin, Manly mounted a herculean comeback before ultimately falling just short when Cherry-Evans opted not to take a field goal shot on the fourth tackle.
By the Eagles’ fifth, the Dogs were swarming.
Sadly, the contest also had an element of farce when Manly prop Josh Starling was sin-binned for throwing a punch that would have struggled to bruise a grape.
Starling was reacting to being manipulated and wrestled in a chicken wing tackle from the Bulldogs’ Josh Jackson, who was put on report for the incident.
But the more the television replays showed the incident, the more video referee Ashley Klein began to analyse the push and shove between Starling and Jackson after the Manly prop threw the ball at his opponent.
Starling was sent to the sin bin due to the mandatory one- punch rule. Retired players from the 1980s and 1990s would have been rolling their eyes in disgust at a player being dismissed in a semi-final for something that mounted to little more than a love tap.
Reduced to 12 men, the Sea Eagles showed tremendous character to hold the Bulldogs scoreless while the prop was sin-binned.
Bulldogs forward Reni Maitua was also binned for the same offence when Blair scored, reducing the Dogs to 12 men late in the game.